If America has a national sandwich, it's unequivocally the hamburger. But deciding what particular combination of ground beef, seasonings, toppings, and bun is the best is sheer folly once you bite in and discover the various regional and even hyper-local variations from across the country that all go by the name burger. So to guide us through this varied landscape – and provide us with a short list of truly notable entrants from across the country – we enlisted the help of George Motz, noted host of Travel Channel's 'Burger Land,' and author of 'Hamburger America' (and producer of a film by the same name).
Motz says there are a few key components to any great burger, but the most important is that it's made of freshly ground, single-source beef. He's also especially fond of shining a light on classic spots that frequently go unmentioned in gourmet top tens. "When you walk into a burger restaurant, and all they're talking about is their beef blend or how much they love their butcher, you know you're in the right place," he says. In that spirit, here are 18 dining spots that Motz says make burgers that deserve special recognition – some classic, some exotic, some bizarre, all delicious – and that should be on any devotees burger bucket list.
Most underrated in the New York area
Sliders and Jersey Burger, White Rose Diner
(Linden, New Jersey)
Sliders are a New Jersey favorite, and Motz says no one does them better than this out-of-the-way slider mecca, an unassuming, stainless steel siding-clad joint plopped near a bunch of grimy auto-body shops. The sliders here are made on a flattop placed directly in front of the vintage counter, so customers see, smell, and salivate over them as they're griddle-steamed. They're made with American cheese, onions, and pickles, and they're a generous two to three ounces each – or a little larger than the original White Castle invention. Motz in particular loves how the onions are smashed into the meat. Competing for his affection, though, is the three-quarter-pound Jersey Burger, which has a fried piece of Taylor ham on top (for the uninitiated, that's a sliced bologna-type meat indigenous to the Garden State). "It's one of the most original expressions of the hamburger in America," Motz says.
$1.50 for basic slider; $4.95 for Jersey Burger
Credit: George Motz
White Rose Diner
1301 East Elizabeth Avenue, Linden, NJ